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Post will no longer accept massage parlor ads

By Andy Alexander

The Post, long criticized for running massage-parlor ads, has decided it will no longer accept them.

An internal note, e-mailed Tuesday to The Post's advertising staff, said: "This is to let you know that The Washington Post will no longer accept advertisements for massage parlor businesses.”

The Post had been accepting the ads if the enterprises offered proof of a valid business license from the jurisdiction where they were located. "If we learned that a specific business was not operating within the law, we would discontinue their advertising," the note said.

But in examining that policy in recent years, it continued, "we have seen law enforcement identify a number of such businesses as being engaged in illegal activities. We have also been directed to postings on adult websites from customers of these businesses that refer to illegal activities taking place at these establishments."

"It has become clear to us that our existing standards needed to evolve," it added. "We have therefore decided not to accept such advertisements going forward."

The note was written by Stuart C. McKeel, a top official in The Post's advertising department. He referred questions about the new policy to Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti. If she has anything to add, I'll update.

The Post often has been criticized by organizations and readers who have asserted that the massage parlors or "spas" in the ads are really thinly-veiled houses of prostitution.

In a blog last year, the head of the Washington-based Polaris Project, which combats international trafficking in women, wrote:

"Ever wonder where traffickers advertise their victims? Turns out it's in one of the nation's most prestigious newspapers -- The Washington Post. Advertisements for massage parlors that are often front for brothels selling trafficked women are run in The Post every day, despite the fact that the publication has reported on human trafficking in massage parlors."

It continued: "These women are often offered legitimate jobs, but then forced into prostitution. Many are unable to leave the brothel. Several are threatened with gang violence and others are threatened with harm to family members if they tried to leave. Some women are in debt bondage, and most have some type of sexual violence or coercion from customers frequenting the brothels. All of them want to escape."

The Post's new policy was first disclosed Tuesday in the "Faster Forward" blog written by the paper's consumer technology columnist, Rob Pegoraro. He was writing about the aftermath of the recent decision by Craigslist to no longer accept "adult services" advertisements on its popular classified-ad Web site following pressure from public officials.

The Post's acceptance of the ads had also been criticized by my predecessor, Deborah Howell, who wrote about the issue in a 2006 ombudsman's column. At the time, she noted that The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times had already decided not to accept massage parlor ads.

By Andy Alexander  | September 29, 2010; 12:45 PM ET
 
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Comments

The Taliban has struck again, and another category of information the newspaper used to carry is now censored. Did the Post learn nothing from the recent controversy involving Craigslist, where banning a category used by sex workers only resulted in the ads migrating to other categories? The moralists insist women are being forced into prostitution, when all available evidence shows these women are willing participants largely for economic reasons and hardly coerced. We need to be like some European countries and Canada, and have a frank acknowledgement of the right of women to do whatever they want, not to be dictated by misguided moralists and assorted Taliban nuts trying to enforce outdated views. Shame on the Post for bowing to their dictates.

Posted by: edwardallen54 | September 29, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

LOL - ads are now "information" and not running them is now "censorship". Maybe AdBlock was developed by the Taliban!

Whatever.

I'm sure there is no shortage of "information" on the Internet for anyone willing to search for it.

Posted by: ComfortablyDumb | September 29, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

This is nonsense. Some of the women in massage parlors were born here and therefore not trafficked. In DC, they are free to leave. Why did it take the Post so long to find out about this, even though the Post is wrong? Does the Post not read its own articles? Sexual violence or coercion from customers? Do you think these places don't have security? You are writing off the income from what on most days is ONE ad for an imagined PR benefit. It doesn't matter, since it's just ONE ad. No one cares if you run massage parlor ads or not.

Posted by: IpeeOnGravestones | September 30, 2010 6:54 AM | Report abuse

I feel sorry for all the middle age men who have to pay for it. The actions by the Post and Craigslist not to run prostitution ads is tyranny. Maybe the Tea Party can take up their cause. LOL

Posted by: buffysummers | September 30, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Such good news! Pimps can't advertise their wares at the paper anymore!?

Now we don't have to see men of the cloth pulpit pimps advertising services at their sky wizard temples of hypocrisy. That IS protecting America!

Posted by: spritey | September 30, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

This action by the Post is long overdue! Nevertheless, I applaud the Post for finally deciding it could do without the profits from massage parlor ads. As for the knuckle-draggers bleating about censorship, they clearly have no idea about the reality that nearly all these places have connections to criminal syndicates and these "champions of freedom" seem to care less about the misery they spread as well.

Posted by: wisehands | September 30, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

The Post is being self-righteous about this, but they're not giving up much. Massage parlor advertising, like most other Post advertising, has dropped substantially in recent years and for the same reason: advertisers have numerous cheaper alternatives. And don't think those ads aren't still showing up on Craigslist in other categories.

Posted by: none12 | October 1, 2010 12:40 AM | Report abuse

I can't forget the time the Post ran a story on a Thursday about a bunch of parlors being busted and closed down the previous day for participating in sex-slavery rings.

Then Friday's paper contained ads for all four.

Posted by: WmarkW | October 1, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Obviously you've returned from a month off reinvigorated and ready to tackle the big issues! Massage parlors, and Mike Wise. What a waste of space.

Posted by: jtmiller42 | October 2, 2010 6:59 PM | Report abuse

Hope this is a trend. Advertising for cigarettes and liquor are severely circumscribed because the interests of the greater social good trump COMMERCIAL speech to large degree. How can anyone think that commercial advertising for an ILLEGAL product is a free speech issue?
Society has an interest not only in condemning the commercial exploitation of women, but in halting the desensitization to this abuse that these pervasive ads create. The media has too long been a willing partner in the hijacking of our culture. Pornography and prostitution are not about sex. They are about money, to the tune of billions of dollars every year! It is not being anti-sex to stand up to this loathsome industry.
Human trafficking does not require movement across borders. Thousands of American citizens are within the US. Force, fraud or coercion are the defining elements.

Avra Cohen
Fight Slavery Now!

Posted by: avracohen | October 5, 2010 3:21 AM | Report abuse

Sort of ironic that, now that massage parlors are increasingly open and legitimate and that "getting a massage" is acceptable recreation for men and women, the Post is now starting this policy because of old chestnuts about massages being a euphamism for sex. Next up the Post will stop using the phrase "confirmed bachelor" when referring to gay men or will decline ads from the Whig party.

Posted by: oldtimehockey | October 5, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

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